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Korean automakers bet on green cars, SUVs and luxury sedans

New cars by local automakers will focus on three themes to prop up their market share following fierce competition from foreign brands

In contrast with falling car sales overseas, domestic sales by Korean automakers posted a record high of 1,558,000 units in 2015, 7.7 percent up from a year ago, according to the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy on Sunday. 

The five automakers running production lines here include Hyundai, Kia, General Motors Korea, Renault Samsung and Ssangyong Motor.

“Along with new car launches, the temporary reduction in special consumption tax -- aimed at boosting domestic spending -- lifted domestic car sales last year,’’ industry sources said.

With the end of the tax benefit, however, domestic sales of the Korean automakers are expected to slow down this year as they face fiercer competition from imported car brands.

To prop up their market share at home, they have driven up new car launches under three themes from the beginning of the year.

One of the three key words to describe features of their new cars is “green.’’ Local carmakers have put their focus on hybrid electric vehicles and pure EVs among eco-friendly cars this year instead of diesel-fueled cars, affected by Volkswagen’s diesel emissions-rigging scandal last year.

Hyundai Motor Group pioneered the trend in the green car segment, releasing its compact “Ioniq’’ hybrid on Jan 14. Ioniq is Hyundai’s independent model for green cars, built on the automaker’s own platform.
 
Hyundai Motor's Ioniq hybrid
Hyundai Motor's Ioniq hybrid

Kia Motors, Hyundai’s sister automaker, will debut “Niro’’ SUV hybrid early this year, which will share the platform with Ioniq.

The local unit of General Motors has also set a goal of becoming a game changer in the Korean EV market by launching its next-generation Chevrolet Bolt plug-in hybrid within this year.

The all-new Bolt, unveiled at the Chicago Auto Show last year, can travel for about 80 kilometers on a fully-charged battery alone, and the range-extending gasoline engine pushes the driving range to more than 650 kilometers, according to the company.

Sport utility vehicles will be another key theme of the year for domestic sales.

Kia Motors, which achieved its best-ever domestic sales last year on the back of the popularity of its SUV and leisure cars like Sorento, Sportage and Carnival, will launch the facelifted version of its sleeper-hit SUV Mohave in February after a six month-hiatus in production.

Ssangyong Motor, the local unit of Indian auto conglomerate Mahindra & Mahindra, will roll out the long-body version of its best-selling compact SUV Tivoli early this year. 

Long-body version of Ssangyong Motor's Tivoli SUV (concept)
Long-body version of Ssangyong Motor's Tivoli SUV (concept)

Korean carmakers are also preparing for new car launches in the heated luxury sedan market here.

Hyundai Motor has been gearing up for the upmarket since last December when it launched EQ 900, the first model of its newly-developed luxury brand Genesis.

Renault Samsung will host its first press meeting on Wednesday to announce the details of its new car launches this year, including Talisman.
 
Renault's Talisman sedan
Renault's Talisman sedan

The Korean unit of French carmaker Renault had said it would debut its new upscale luxury sedan in the first half of this year.

The Talisman sedan, based on the Renault-Nissan Alliance’s common module family platform, is one of the strategic models for Renault to go upscale.

By Seo Jee-yeon (jyseo@heraldcorp.com)
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